Saturday, February 06, 2010

Howard Zinn in Olympia Today

Howard Zinn was scheduled to speak in Olympia today. Instead the community will hold a memorial service for him. Not nearly as rewarding as hearing him speak but still important. Important because it remembers Howard Zinn's legacy of economic justice and activism, a reminder that we can act as individuals to create real change.

I've been reading Uncommon Sense: From the Writings of Howard Zinn the past few weeks. The collection is a treasure of thoughts and ideas, a reminder of Zinn's wide-ranging and clear understanding of American history, a history I learned only as an adult.

Two quotes particularly resonate with me and will be my lasting memory of Howard Zinn:
I can understand pessimism, but I don't believe in it. It's not simply a matter of faith, but of historical evidence. Not overwhelming evidence, just enough to give hope, because for hope we done need certainty, only possibility.


The word "optimism" ...makes me a little uneasy, because it suggests a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time. But I use it anyway, not because I am totally confident that the world will get better, but because I am certain that only such confidence can prevent people from giving up the game before all the cards have been played.... To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world.
(emphasis in original)

from Failure to Quit: Reflections of an Optimistic Historian (1993)


Zinn's death is a double loss for the Olympia activist community. Not only do we not have the opportunity to hear him in person, he was a member of the national board of GI Voice, an organization of activist veterans who operate Coffee Strong outside the main gate of the Army base formerly known as Fort Lewis. His schedule included a visit to Coffee Strong.


A Fundamental Thought

Once again, I see a reference to Republicans decrying Obama giving "new rights" to terrorism suspects by prosecuting them as criminals rather than some form of enemy alien. The "Terror 24/7/365" crowd doesn't seem to understand the fundamental nature of individual human rights: no one "gives" rights to anyone. Human rights are, as boldly stated in the US Declaration of Independence, "unalienable". Unalienable Rights among equals. Something to be respected, to be sure, but not something anyone gives. This nation's founding documents create a system, however imperfect it may be in practice, intended to adjudicate and protect these rights. Hell, we even try to do it in war, too. Used to, anyway.

So instead of calling the Underwear Bomber a deadly enemy and further mobilizing the National Security State (although he did a bit of this, too), Obama called him a criminal and will try him in federal court, just like the other 600 terrorism cases for which prosecutors can claim a 90 percent conviction rate. That's not good enough for the war crowd because it renders terrorism into something routine, something society just deals with. A criminal case successfully prosecuted in court lessens the rationale for extended, costly military deployments.

Don't expect Cheney and his echo chamber to stop barking. If they do, Americans may wake up and decide, finally, that we want our national legacy to be peace and justice, not war and predatory capitalism that wreck our military and their families, bankrupt the nation and create more hostility toward America throughout the world.

An awakened America would also know that the human Rights are inherent in all. that on our best days we recognize and respect all others' rights and that days not our best should be less rather than more.

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